Dieter Riechmann is a German citizen, sentenced to death by a US court in 1988 for having murdered his girlfriend on August 25, 1987. For twelve years, Riechmann has protested his sentence; for twelve years, he has been waiting for his execution in Raiford prison, Florida. In 1997, the German journalist Peter F. Müller started to investigate the case. On May 3rd, 2001, the results could be seen on public German TV. In his 45 minute documentary titled “Häftling 113993 Â– Ein Deutscher in der Todeszelle” (“prisoner 113993 – a German on death row”), Müller attacks the investigating police, shows inconsistencies in testimonies used at the trial and even finds a man who confesses to the crime.
On May 16, 2001, German private TV station “RTL” will show a film about a German citizen on death row in the US, convicted of murdering his girlfriend: “Todesstrafe – Ein Deutscher hinter Gittern”. (“Death sentence – a German behind prison walls.”) Riechmann’s lawyers urged the broadcasting station not to actually broadcast the film, for they fear that it might be used by state attourneys involved in Riechmann’s fight for re-trial. RTL lawyers argue that, despite apparent similarities, the film is pure fiction and has got nothing to do with Riechmann’s case – which is, of course, exactly why the film has been advertised all long as “showing how IT really was”. Moreover, isn’t Riechmann a person of public interest? Does the public then not have a right to know?
The truly frightening aspect of all this media madness about a man on death row is that noone – except for the RTL people – really doubts that US state attourneys could be influenced by, could make use of, a German fiction film. Not even Gerhard Mauz, THE German courtroom journalist. But considering some of the evidence brought up in Riechmann’s trial, this absence of doubt, indicating an absence of trust in US legal authorities, is hardly surprising: Searching Riechmann’s private library in Germany, investigators found a copy of Truman Capote’s (non-fiction) book “In Cold Blood”. A man who has such books, the prosecution argued, is cold-blooded enough to commit such murders. One wonders whether they actually ever read the book themselves – of course not, for otherwise, they would probably have qualified for becoming murderers themselves; but if not, how could they know about the book’s disastrous influence? At the very least, they could have taken a look at Richard Brooks’ film. After all, they seem to like films.
Afterthought: Reading today’s “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, from which I had taken the information that RTL will go ahead and show the film, I completely overlooked that it also contains a half-page ad from RTL, where the broadcasting station replies to yesterday’s critical article in the same newspaper, telling you what things are REALLY like. See “Le Sofa” for the full text of the ad, plus Peter Praschl’s commentary.